Rand Paul’s dopey science: How Ebola and climate change exposed a quack

Despite claims that he’s the candidate Dems should fear most, here's why people are onto the far right “doctor” now

Published October 6, 2014 5:20PM (EDT)

  (Manuel Balce Ceneta)
(Manuel Balce Ceneta)

We hear over and over that Sen. Rand Paul is the Republican Democrats should fear most -- the guy who could win over anti-war voters with his anti-interventionism, young people with his supposed (mostly rumored) libertarianism, maybe even some African Americans thanks to his work on criminal justice reform.

But every time Paul gets attention for one of his interesting politicsl stands, he’s likely to repel potential new supporters with one of his crazy ones. Politics aside, anyone who cares about science and reason is going to have a hard time supporting Paul – the “doctor” who said last week that the government was lying about how Ebola was spread, and who (according to this new interview with Salon's Elias Isquith) turned off the non-partisan, libertarian leaning comedian Bill Maher with his blinkered views on climate change.

Let’s take Ebola first. In a breathless “exclusive,” Breitbart News revealed that Paul thinks the Obama administration is misleading the public about the nature of the threat and how the disease is spread. “They’re downplaying and underplaying the risk of this,” Paul claimed. “They keep emphasizing that it’s so hard to transmit. Well if it’s so hard to transmit why are doctors getting it with masks, gloves, boots and hats—the whole works?”

You might think an ophthalmologist (though he’s not board certified) would be more responsible about spreading health panic. But you’d be wrong. “Could we have a worldwide pandemic? The Spanish flu in 1918 killed 21 million people, the plague in the 14th century killed 25 million people; I’m not saying that’s going to happen, I don’t know what’s going to happen. But I think we should have travel restrictions at this point in time coming from Africa,” Paul added.

Health experts shot Paul down almost immediately. “I don't think that there's data to tell us that that's a correct statement, with all due respect,” NIH veteran Dr. Anthony Fauci told CBS’s “Face the Nation.” “We have had experience since 1976 with how Ebola is transmitted. And it is clear that it's transmitted by direct contact with body fluids, blood, diarrhea, vomit, or what have you.

“And there's no indication that there is another insidious way that it's transmitted that we're missing because of the experience that we've had. So, we've really gotta go with the evidence base. There's always hypothesis and surmising about that, but there's no scientific evidence,” Fauci added.

Then there’s Paul’s recent encounter with Bill Maher, which the comedian shared with Isquith. Maher made headlines last month when he said that even though he was a big donor to President Obama’s 2008 and 2012 campaigns, he would consider voting for Paul in 2016, because of his anti-interventionism. “Rand Paul is an interesting candidate to me. Rand Paul could possibly get my vote. He’s way less of a hawk than Hillary, and that appeals to me a lot because I’m not crazy about how warlike she is.”

Then the two men had a drink, and Maher explained what happened.

My big problem is I asked him about the environment, which is my big issue — because he had made a comment that was very similar to what Dick Cheney said about a month or two ago, which was basically, “Why are we talking the environment when ISIS is out there?”

I said, “Senator, y’know, you sounded just like Dick Cheney… it’s very unfortunate that even he, who I consider, in the Republican Party, the most viable [presidential candidate], is apparently so far in the bubble on their environmental denial that he just doesn’t have an answer that sounds like it should come out of the mouth of any politician in the 21st century.

Unless he comes around, big time, on that issue… I mean, I won’t even quote what he said to me, I’ll give him the chance to gather a better answer [laughs], but that would be a deal-breaker, right there, because Hillary Clinton said something awesome about [environmental issues] and I assume she’s going to be the other candidate. So, right on that issue, he would lose my vote.

That’s so Rand – thinking a flippant one-liner can substitute for actual policy on a topic as serious as the environment and climate change. Paul will be a formidable 2016 candidate for his Republican rivals, especially if the GOP establishment is really desperate enough to be begging tired retreads like Mitt Romney and Jeb Bush to run. But while Paul could conceivably win the GOP primary, it's hard to imagine him getting past a Democrat that fall, especially Hillary Clinton. Journalists long to find a new, unconventional Republican hero under that messy hair, but voters will mostly find right wing orthodoxy when they listen long enough.

By Joan Walsh